Evaluation of acute mental status change in the nonhead injured trauma patient

Am Surg. 1998 Sep;64(9):900-5.


Acute mental status change in the first 24 hours after trauma is uncommon in nonhead injured patients who initially present with a normal sensorium. Although arterial hypoxemia is the classic etiology for such a mental status change, three less common etiologies should always be considered: cerebral fat embolism, blunt carotid artery injury, and vertebrobasilar artery thrombosis. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment can significantly improve patient morbidity and mortality. Three nonhead injured trauma patients are described illustrating cerebral fat embolism, blunt carotid artery injury, and vertebrobasilar artery thrombosis as causes of acute mental status change. Each patient initially presented with a clear sensorium, but subsequently developed neurological deficits within 24 hours after admission. All had a normal admission CT scan of the head. MRI or conventional arteriography was diagnostic in each case. Any patient who is initially lucid and subsequently develops a neurological deficit, or a patient whose neurological status does not correlate with brain CT findings should undergo immediate evaluation for possible cerebral fat embolism or cervical vessel injury. An algorithm for management of nonhead injured trauma patients with acute mental status deterioration is presented.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Basilar Artery
  • Carotid Artery Injuries
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology*
  • Coma / etiology
  • Embolism, Fat / etiology
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Fibula / injuries
  • Fractures, Bone / complications
  • Hemiplegia / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / complications
  • Intracranial Embolism and Thrombosis / etiology
  • Male
  • Mental Processes*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Injuries / complications
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Thrombosis / etiology
  • Tibial Fractures / complications
  • Vertebral Artery
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / complications